NYC scooter battery fires double; FDNY, mayor seek federal action

Twice as many fires caused by e-scooter batteries have been reported so far in 2022 than in the same period of 2021, data obtained by the Daily News shows.

So far in 2022, some 130 fires have been sparked by lithium-ion batteries across the city. The blazes have killed five people and injured 73, Fire Department officials said.

At the same point in 2021, the batteries were blamed for 65 fires — 50% of this year’s total. Those fires killed three and injured 57.

The number of scooter battery fires has grown as more and more New Yorkers order hot meals and other goods for delivery — a practice that boomed during the pandemic.

Many types of e-bikes were legalized by the City Council in 2020 — and their growing popularity for personal use and as transportation for deliveristas working for delis, restaurants and other businesses has helped push up the number of e-bike battery fires.

In 2019, when these fires were first tracked by the FDNY, only 13 blazes were attributed to the batteries. During 2020, that number jumped to 44.

The most recent fatal battery fire occurred on Aug. 3 when an ion-lithium battery blast sparked a fire in an East Harlem NYCHA apartment that killed 5-year-old Ericka Williams and 36-year-old Chanise Anderson. the FDNY and police said.

Ericka’s father, Erick William, was seriously burned and was hospitalized after trying to rescue his daughter and girlfriend from the fire.

Two days earlier, Rafael Elias Lopez-Centeno, 27, died in a Bronx apartment fire sparked by one of these batteries.

Factory-installed scooter batteries seem safe and adhere to industry standards, safety experts say. The batteries that tend to combust are aftermarket items e-bike users buy online or in scooter stores as supplements or replacements for the battery that came with the device, FDNY officials said.

Interim Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh on Friday wrote to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to ask for better regulation of e-bike batteries “to prevent future injuries and deaths.”

“Lithium-ion battery cells, when improperly manufactured, sold, stored or used can pose a serious hazard and imminent danger to lives and property,” Kavanagh wrote.

Fire marshals haven’t determined that any “particular manufacturer” repeatedly sells hazardous batteries, Kavanagh wrote.

But the FDNY believes the feds should investigate the problem, and that “a thorough examination of the manufacturing and sale of lithium-ion battery products in e-mobility devices must be initiated to prevent future tragedies,” Kavanagh wrote.

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The Fire Department recommends that scooter owners never charge batteries unattended, and that should be charged outdoors.

“In our investigations, we have discovered instances in which the failure of these batteries resulted in an explosion which ignites a rapidly burning fire,” Kavanaugh wrote. “This can leave occupants with little to no time to safely exit the area where the battery was located and can cause serious injuries and fatalities.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has yet to respond to Kavanagh’s letter, and did not immediately respond to a Daily News query.

Mayor Adams is also turning to the CPSC for relief.

“It’s become clear that regulation and further study of these devices will help keep more New Yorkers safe and potentially save lives,” Adams said. He hopes the agency “will consider additional regulatory measures.”

The federal agency has an ongoing “High Energy Density Batteries Project” that investigates the manufacturing and quality control of ion-lithium batteries, but their last publicly published status report was in 2020.

In that report, the CPSC said that charging lithium-ion batteries for devices like scooters and e-bikes sparked 330 fires in the US from 2015 to 2018, causing more than $9 million in property damage.